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Shrine Circuses

Shriners groups across the United States contract with various circus producers to hold circus events on behalf of the Shrine.

These annual circuses are held as fundraisers for the fraternal group, but proceeds from Shrine Circuses often benefit Shrine Temple operations only. The Shriners may announce in small writing on tickets that proceeds do not benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children and contributions or gifts to the Shrine Circus are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. If you wish to contribute a tax-deductible donation to a Shriners Hospital for Children, you should contact the hospital directly, rather than rely on the purchase of a circus ticket.

Each Shrine Temple individually produces its own circus using leased animals from such companies as George Carden Circus, Jordan World Circus, Tarzan Zerbini Circus, Circus Gatti, Royal Hanneford Circus, and Hawthorn Corporation, among others. Every exhibitor of Shrine-leased animals has failed to meet minimal federal standards under the Animal Welfare Act for the care of animals used in the circus. However, the Shriners are able to avoid responsibility and scrutiny by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and local animal control because the Shriners do not own the animals used in their shows.

The USDA has cited Shrine Circus animal exhibitors for failing to provide veterinary care; failing to provide adequate food, water, and shelter from the elements; and failing to handle animals in a manner that ensures their safety as well as public safety. Animals used in Shrine circuses have rampaged, causing human deaths and injuries. Some Shriners are rethinking the use of animals in their circus fundraisers as it becomes recognized as archaic, unsafe, and inhumane. Please let the Shriners know that you want an end to animal cruelty at the Shrine Circus and will attend only animal-free circuses.

Some Recent Incidents Involving Animals at Shrine Circuses:


Once when George Carden Circus International was performing as Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Circus, APHIS officials monitored the elephant rides and observed numerous times in which the elephants were not under the direct control of elephant handlers. (USDA Inspection Report)


An animal handler with the Hamid Circus was kicked and thrown approximately 20 feet by an African elephant named Dumbo between performances at the Irem Shrine Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The handler died at the scene from multiple traumatic injuries. The elephant had been leased from Joe Frisco's Wonderful World of Animals. (Huffington Post)


The USDA cited exhibitor Will Davenport, doing business as Maximus Tons of Fun, performing as the Hejaz Shrine Circus in Greenville, SC, with a direct noncompliance for failing to provide adequate veterinary care when all three of his elephants were found to be in poor body condition. All of the elephants had lost more 500 pounds each since he last time they were weighed, and one elephant was so thin that the vertebrate in her spine were prominent and her face was sunken. After repeated directions from the USDA to seek proper veterinary care and appropriate feedings to help the elephants gain weight, two elephants, Tina and Jewell, were confiscated and taken to the San Diego Zoo. (USDA Inspection Report)


In Indianapolis, at least 15 children and one adult were injured when an elephant who was being used to give rides at the Murat Shrine Circus became startled, stumbling and knocking over the scaffolding stairway leading to the elephant ride. The Shriners had leased the elephant from exhibitor Will Davenport, doing business as Maximus Tons of Fun. (TheIndyChannel.com)


A New York Times examination of Shrine records found that more than 57 percent of the $32 million raised in 2005 through circuses, bingo and other fundraising events went to Shriner activities and temple expenses. Only 2 percent of the Shrine hospitals' operating income comes from money raised by Shrine temples. More than 30 temples had discovered fraud-like theft of money and inventory, altered bank statements, padded payrolls and fake invoices.


In Fort Wayne, IN, an elephant fatally trampled her trainer while being loaded into the transport truck. The trainer died after being taken to the hospital with critical chest injuries. The elephant, owned by Tarzan Zerbini Circus, was hired to perform in the Fort Wayne Mizpah Shrine Temple’s annual circus. In a similar incident, another employee of the same circus was injured in 1995 when an elephant knocked him to the ground and stomped on his abdomen. (Associated Press)


In Evansville, IN, a chimpanzee with the Hadi Shrine Circus bit a circus guest during a pre-show picture event with the animals. The guest was taken to the hospital and treated for puncture wounds. Circus officials reported that the chimpanzee attack was unprovoked. (WFIE TV-14)


In Spokane, WA, at least 10 cats and 1 bobcat were killed when their travel trailer caught fire while parked inside Spokane Veterans Arena for the El Katif Shrine Circus. As firefighters tried to control the heavy smoke coming from the arena, another bobcat ran through the legs of a firefighter to escape the smoke. A security worker and a circus employee were treated for smoke inhalation. (Spokesman Review)


The USDA filed charges against Hawthorn Corporation for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including physical abuse of elephants, failing to provide veterinary care to an emaciated elephant, failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant suffering from severe chemical burns and a bacterial infection, failure to provide veterinary care to several elephants with severe foot problems, and unsafe public contact. Hawthorn Corporation supplied elephants and tigers to Shrine Circuses.


A Shetland pony with the Shrine Circus in Lincoln, Neb., was chased by police officers and stopped traffic in the downtown area after bolting from the circus tent. (Associated Press)


Tory and Mary, two elephants performing with Shrine Circus, bolted out of the circus tent, scattering crowds during a show in Menomonie, WI. Mary hiked two miles through town and was recaptured at the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus when trucks blocked her route. One child was injured, and the elephants caused property damage. The Shriners had contracted with George Carden Circus for the event. (Associated Press)


A tiger refused to return to his cage following a performance contracted with Circus Gatti during the Ben Ali Shrine Circus, prompting evacuation of spectators from the Sacramento, CA arena. Both Sacramento police and SWAT teams were called and dispatched to the scene. The tiger was eventually tranquilized and returned to his cage. (Sacramento City Police Report)


A former executive director of the Osman Temple Shrine Circus was indicted for allegedly stealing more than $300,000 from the nonprofit organization. (Associated Press Newswire)


In Chicago, a teacher filed a formal complaint against the Shrine Circus for alleged abuse of one of the circus' elephants. According to the teacher and her 8-year-old child, an elephant was removed from the ring for failing to perform up to expectations and then chained by one leg and beaten with a bullhook until the animal began to scream. (Metro Networks)


In Muskegon, Mich., a portion of a 2-year-old child's finger was bitten off by a bear performing at the Kent County Shrine Circus. The mother stated that there were no barricades between the bear cage and the public. The circus contested this statement. (The Grand Rapids Press)


A Siberian tiger with Jordan Brothers Circus escaped into the stands during a Shrine-sponsored circus performance in Little Rock, AR. A 13-year-old girl was bitten, causing 7 puncture wounds on the back of her leg. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)


Before a performance of the Zuhria Shrine Circus in Bloomington, MN, elephant rides were given. After several trips with children and adults on her back, an elephant lost her balance and grabbed the trainer with her mouth. One child suffered a wound on the leg and the trainer suffered a gash on the upper leg and was taken to the hospital. Elephant rides were again performed at intermission and after the show. (United Press International)

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